Ain't No Making It by Jay MacLeod 1987

A sociological account of two groups of teenage boys.

In Ain’t No Making It Jay MacLeod compares two groups of teenage boys in a low-income housing project, the “Hallway Hangers,” a group of mainly white boys, and the “Brothers,” a group of mostly black boys. In his interviewing and research, MacLeod studied the different aspirations and outlooks between the two groups, what aspects made these differences, and the long-term implications of the differences. The answers and explanations that MacLeod puts forth are somewhat surprising but are rational considering the different level of education and family backgrounds between the two groups.

At first look, it would seem that the group of white boys, the “Hallway Hangers” would have higher aspirations in life as they would have come from typically a more wealthier background and one that would put more stress on going to college and striving for a good job and well-off life. This reasoning also goes for the group of black boys, the “Brothers” who’s background would tend not to put stress on a higher education and would not have as many assets of which to draw off from for a well-off life and would accordingly have lower aspirations in life. However, MacLeod describes that these seemingly logical generalizations were not the case in these two groups that in fact, the “Brothers” had higher aspirations in life than did the “Hangers.” His sociological explanations make rational sense of these observations.

MacLeod’s argument is that black group, who must overcome both class and racial barriers will view opportunities in education and occupation as more open whereas the white group their opportunities as closed. Therefore, the “Brothers” whose chances in life seen much lower than those of the “Hangers,” nonetheless hold optimistic attitudes toward the future and the “Hangers” hold feelings of bitterness and hopelessness. The “Hangers” reject and mock the American Dream of social mobility, seeing their parents in poorly paid and unwanted jobs. They question the American Dream since it goes against the experiences that they are exposed to, their family, neighbors, and their own experiences. They therefore create a counterculture, going against the culture of their parents and the middle class. On the other side, the “Brothers” internalize the success philosophy believing that if they work hard enough, they can make the middle class. Racial differences have a key effect in the two group’s views. The “Hangers,” for example, believe that affirmative action has worked to create black favoritism in school and occupation opportunities creating a reverse discrimination. They therefore argue that they do not have equal access to achievement, affecting their outlook on their life.

These ideas are very similar to Bourdieu’s idea of habitus, a class-based outlook on life. MacLeod shows rationally through the example of the different groups of boys that the class and group that a person belongs to is extremely important in determining the person’s outlook on life and subsequent opportunities and achievements. The choices made by the “Hangers,” for example, to be underachievers may not be rational but they are reasonable considering their background and exposure to society reiterating Bourdieu’s habitus.

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